Sunday, December 21, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: Episode 26 of Ashita no Nadja

As I said yesterday, I still watch anime for kids and this year I had a chance to watch one of the "50 episodes of awesome" shojo shows, Ashita no Nadja. It's a really great shojo adventure show, set in either the late 1800s or early 1900s (I think the show did give an actual date late into the show, I want to say shortly before World War I), Nadja has grown up in England believing she's an orphan only to learn that her mother is alive and she joins up with a group of traveling entertainers to go all around Europe to find more clues about her. That doesn't necessarily sound like a recipe for awesome or even enough of a story to fill up 50 episodes, it's not, and the show spends quite a few episodes in it's first half going around to various countries and having the characters just meet people, it's a bit like filler but it's not unpleasant (which is one of the main complaints about filler) and nearly every character comes back later in the series anyway. But you can tell this is a Toei show because it has very important plot revelations, and emotional beats, at very specific parts of the story, the 13th, 26th, and 39th episodes which make the first quarter, first half, and three-quarters mark of the stories and that kind of pacing is something they still use in their Precure series today. And once you hit that 26th episode the show really starts to pull in it's loose ends, introduce it's true villain, and really settles in for a continuous, emotionally-wringing ride that lasts, with very few breaks, until the final episode.

But first, a breather! The 26th episode seems to start out as a breather episode, Nadja and the rest of the Dandelion Troupe are in Spain and it's hot. Everyone is taking a siesta but Nadja has a bit too much energy and so she sets off on her own and runs into an old friend Francis Harcourt, a young British nobleman who seems to be a dead ringer for the white knight who rescued Nadja in the first episode (conniving uncle sending henchmen after Nadja to steal her proof that she's the actual heir to a dukedom, I told you this was a shojo adventure after all!). He seems surprised to see her as well but it's no surprise, they're both hundreds of miles away from where they met after all and the two of them go off for a walk while everyone else sleeps.

At this point I'll mention why I thought this episode was worth singling out, not just because of it's plot significance but because it was directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Yes, the man who did Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and parts of Digimon, for some reason no one ever seems to mention that he did work on other Toei shows too! He also directed a couple of other episodes but I felt like you could see his influence the best here. The whole episode is a bit dreamy, the normally mature Nadja acts a bit more childish and like her age here (he seems to do better with young teens than young children) and Francis is a bit more withdrawn, this dreaminess has brought about both isolation and connection between the two. Francis reveals more about himself and Nadja says that this is a side of him she's never seen before, as if something about this hot summer day has made him open up in a way that she's hoped he would after all of their past encounters. 

But I have a theory, this is an important episode because it has quite a huge twist that was completely out of the blue and un-foreshadowed in any way. I knew it was coming and didn't see any clues for it, heck the show was even inconsistent with it's own visual themes so I wonder if most of the staff was unaware of the twist as well, I certainly wouldn't expect a kid's show to provide no hints at all. So I think this episode was an attempt to rectify it, after all, everything seems strange in a dream and your mind focuses on the oddest of things, why not use it to suggest that something is terribly wrong to lessen the shock of the reveal 20 minutes later just a little bit? Even the visuals seem to have gone up a little in this episode, everything from the backgrounds, the lighting, and the placement of objects in a scene fully contributes to the half-there-half-not feeling of the episode. It's a fully cohesive episode and I think it wasn't by random ordering of the schedule that Hosoda was put in charge of such a critical piece. 

(And to make it clear, I do think this was the best way to handle this problem. The show should have never written itself into such a tight corner in the first place but this was an okay attempt to rectify it. Plus the episode really let Nadja and Francis connect and work out some of their own histories and philosophies, the show isn't quite mature enough to have real themes but the character's motivations are huge in this show. Francis alone brings classism, nobless oblige, the "power" of sudden wealth, and these are all a huge impact on how Nadja grows and chooses what path she wants to walk in the world. Seriously it's a great show, not licensed but after like 12 years all of the fansubs are out!)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: What I want out of a kids show

I watch anime aimed at kids, specifically kids that is, and frankly I don't care about that part. Sometimes I consume media to get something deeper or more informative out of it or sometimes I want something fun, anime falls under the "fun" category 99% of the time and some kids shows are really a lot of fun without being dumb. Like, in this year's PreCure show (Happiness Charge Pretty Cure) we got plenty of silly faces from the characters, a central plot to help keep the show on course, and then an episode where the villains challenged the cures to a baseball game and one of them decided to use her magical-light-sword-thing as a baseball bat (and we have already established that I enjoy it when baseball escalates in a silly manner). Heck, Gundam Build Fighters is an amazing example of this, the show again has a central plot to keep things on track but you can tell the creators are just having fun with the references, parodies, and generally silly ideas. So the guy running the tournament really has a bone to pick with the main characters? Make their matches impossible to win, make the gunpla play baseball against each other, that'll do it!

Or on second thought, maybe I just like it when anime gets really silly about baseball. Quick, someone recommend me shows that randomly dedicate an episode to baseball and we'll see if it still amuses me!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Blue Lily Lily Blue

For those who missed why, I had some massive headaches earlier this week/late last week which made it a bit hard to write this review, even with all the notes I had prepared for it! Hoping that doesn't happen again because goddamn that was painful.

There have been a few reviews which have been tough for me to write this year. Not because the subject matter is particularly emotional for me but simply because I find it hard to do the material justice in a review, I almost feel as if saying "just go read this, you'll like it" would be better. But that's not how I do things so I am going to try once more and talk about what ended up being my most anticipated book of 2014, the third book in the The Raven Cycle. I enjoyed the first book immensely but when I read The Dream Thieves earlier this year, during a particularly weird week of my life, I was struck by how special these books were and this book has those same special qualities to it.

Blue Lily Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: Why Akari Yomatsuri is my spirit animal

Bones put out a fair number of anime this year, they put out split cours of both Chaika the Coffin Princess and Space Dandy, adapted part of Noragami (and for once didn't shoot themselves in the foot with an anime-original ending), and they also put out a very Bones-y mecha show, Captain Earth. I approached the show not with high expectations but fairly confident I would like it regardless which is exactly what happened, it had quite a few stumbling blocks but really pulled itself together in the second half, although it is a bit worrisome that all of Bones recent mecha shows have had the exact same plotting/pacing issues.

What I didn't expect was how hard I was going to fall for one of the characters; Captain  Earth has four leads, Daichi whose had a connection with space agency/alien fighting agency Globe since he was a child, the semi-alien Teppei and Hana, and then Akari, fully human like Daichi and the daughter of Globe's commander and of Globe's space station commander (they're divorced and don't see her regularly so she regularly hacks all of their computer systems to stay in the loop). In some ways she's the least connected to the plot, she enters the show with a strong sense of who she is already and isn't given as much character growth on screen as the other three (I half wonder if this was unintentional since at times it seemed like they writers meant to but ran out of time, see my complaint with their pacing issues). But she's easily the most fun character out of the bunch, from literally dazzling the stage as she's introduced to complaining (clearly to the audience) about how her status of magical girl in in jeopardy since she's the only one without a cute squirrel side-kick! Plus the show not only gave her a romantic relationship with Teppei but also a very strong one with Hana which a lot of shows neglect to do, they're so focused on forming relationships between the protagonist and other characters that they forget to give the more minor characters other relationships (and she totally nails it by joking with Hana that the two boys are "flirting" with each other when they compete with each other, her genre-savvyiness is pretty amusing without feeling calculated).

But her best moment comes early in the series where the alien organization (the Planetary Gears) take notice of her hacking skills and kidnap her both to help defeat Globe and to force Globe's hand, mocking her self-proclaimed magical girl nickname in the process. They have to let her near a computer to do this and really shouldn't have been surprised when she managed to find a way to retaliate against them, let's just say she was 10 minutes away from destroying the entire planet just to keep the Gears stuck in the solar system for a few hundred million years.

Do not mess with the magical girl indeed. And listen closely, while they use the nickname jokingly here the Gears use it totally seriously for the rest of the series.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Manga Review: My Little Monster (volume 4)

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I think my branch library has gotten a new employee lately who is fairly manga-savy, not just because of the "sad Naruto is over? Read these manga instead!" display but because I've seen more recent manga releases popping up in our small section recently. Obviously this was one of them, I hadn't gotten around to buying the latest volume of My Little Monster yet for, well, actually that's part of the review!

My Little Monster (volume 4) by Robico